A Peace of Advent
A sermon based on Isaiah 2:1-5
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on November 27, 2016
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Getting the church ready for the Holidays a minister announced this: “Immediately after the service today there will be a meeting of the Board of Advent.” At the close of the service, the group gathered at the back of church for the announced meeting. A stranger, a first time visitor to the church, walked over to join them. The pastor gently approached and said “My friend did you understand that this is a meeting of the Board of Advent?” The visitor responded “Yeah with Holiday stuff up since before Halloween I am as bored of Advent as you can get!”
During Advent I usually hear from someone how tired they are of the Christmas season, of Advent. I hear that it starts too early, it is over-commercialized, or it just seems to go on and on. I always find this interesting since I can’t recall hearing similar complaints that the NCAA football championships that occur in January start getting hype by late spring – and merchandise is marketed all year long –and most fans cannot get enough of any of this. And we also just had the World Series in November and the baseball world’s already started talking about next season and still selling team wares– and again, no fan of baseball I know is complaining about that. And it is not just sports. I know a lot of people who make their plans for summer now, and commercial entities that market now for summer vacation. You probably can see where I am going with this. Year ‘round there’s marketing for all manner of things and when football or baseball or summer roll around we don’t hear fans saying they are tired or bored of the season because of pre-season marketing or conversations. To my way of thinking (and no one has to agree with me) fans of Advent and Christmas ought to rejoice and be glad of earlier harbingers of the season.
This is our fourth Advent season together and most of you know by now that I am quite fond of this time of year. And I know it may seem a little bit odd that I like to see Christmas store displays showing up weeks, even months, in advance. The early arrival of those displays remind me that Christmas matters in our culture. It tells me that God is still speaking in all sorts of ways, even out in the market place. It reminds me that the power of love that permeates this Holiday month – the power we call “The Christmas Spirit”– is catered to not just by churches, but by the secular world–even businesses. But most of all it tells me that The Christmas Spirit is so powerful and desirable that not just Christians, but non-Christians revel in it’s glory and look forward to its arrival, weeks, even months in advance.
With all the negative things we hear about in the world, the world almost effortlessly, almost innately gravitates to the very positive glory of what Advent is meant to stand for: peace, hope, joy and love. I get that we might not want to personally display our Christmas decorations early any more than we’d put up football flags before the season or put on our summer vacation shorts in the dead of winter, but I personally think it is a good thing that Christmas gets early hype. It signals there is a huge market for Christmas. It indicates that people care about it . . . a lot.
I fancy that they care about it even more than sports . . . even more than vacations. And the reason there is care for Christmas is because . .. . well, it is the season of care. It’s the season where we turn to and joyfully work on love and hopefully aim our lives together toward peace.
I’d even go so far as to claim that for one twelfth of the year we step it up like we are supposed to all year long and bring more of heaven to earth — and it matters. We can see it. We can hear it. We can feel it. We experience it. You’ve all heard the song The Twelve Days of Christmas? I long for the day we sing about the twelve months of Christmas. Where year long we turn to and work on love, and we aim toward peace with the intensity we do during the Holidays.
See, God dreams of “Peace on earth” as a daily human quest with love of each other as the vehicle we make the peace journey on. I love that we have on the very tippy top of the church tower now a display of lights this Advent that proclaims throughout the darkness for all to see “Peace on earth.” If you have not seen it lit up, it is quite remarkable. “Peace on earth” is what Advent and Christmas–and Jesus Way are ultimately all about. Which is exactly why the text from Isaiah that we just heard Dick read is the Lectionary text being looked at in churches all over the world today.
It’s the first day of Advent and this is one of the Scripture lessons specifically chosen for this day, the day when we light our Peace candle. And I love that the Jill and Matt who both work for peace throughout the year in the community led today’s Advent ceremony with their beautiful family. Jill works at Kenyon working with students, staff and faculty to develop safe, supportive and engaging residence hall communities that create a seamless living and learning environment across campus. Matt works as the head of New Directions a shelter and education center regarding domestic abuse issues. Matt and Jill are Peacemakers blessings to this community.
Many others in this congregation work for peace, and by peace I mean God’s Shalom, which is Hebrew and translated means peace – a peace that is defined in the Westminister Theological Dictionary as
much more than the lack of war and points to full societal and personal well-being, coupled with righteousness and possible only as a gift of God.
We need to hear Shalom – peace– as: well being and righteousness existing through-and-through our existence. Everyone’s existence needs to have full societal and personal well being. That is peace in the Bible is fully realized.
I love that Advent begins in our church with the first Sunday focused on peace. Peace is the goal, and it is the promise of Jesus’ arrival on Christmas Day. So the Lectionary lifts up the Isaiah text we heard on the promise of peace.
And the words we heard from that text are a bit unique as far Bible verses go. See they are also found elsewhere in Micah 4 (1-3) and so that “oracle is often called ‘the floating oracle of peace.’” 1 Those verses focused, on peace through-and-through, indicate that “The Lord’s house” will be established as the highest mountain and it will be sought out by all nations. “All nations shall stream to it” we are told . . . ALL. NATIONS. That means Jews and Gentiles – everyone– in the world will be streaming to it. And Isaiah tells us all nations will do so wanting to learn God’s ways in order to walk on God’s paths. How promising and hopeful is that? How joyful and loving is that? How peaceful the world will be with that unfolding!
And then we are told that God – on that way and path– when followed by ALL nations, will be who judges ALL nations and arbitrates – which means mediate disputes– between all people. The results of all this are some of the most profound and oft quoted words in the Bible. When nations stream to God to be taught God’s ways and follow God’s paths and let God judge and arbitrate then all nations and peoples shall what?
They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
It’s no wonder this is in two of the books of the Prophets and lifted up in the Lectionary at the start of Advent. What beautiful words. What a beautiful promise. Who doesn’t want that to occur? Who doesn’t desire, what God desires, that all peoples beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks? Who doesn’t desire what God desires that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more?
Finally, our lesson from Isaiah ends with the phrase “come let us walk in the light of Lord.” If we stop for just a second and think about it . . . well, just look around at the sanctuary that Larry so wondrously decorated yesterday . . . Advent is filled with light. In the gospel of Matthew a light from a Star heralds Jesus’ birth and guides the Magi to him. In the gospel of Luke the Glory of the heavenly host, we are told, shone around the shepherds. And it’s not just churches that lights twinkle in, and on. All over neighborhoods of this town we have twinkling lights on houses and on our Christmas Trees.
Light is a big deal this time of year. There is a reason that light fills the Advent season, it’s in the Nativity stories. It’s in the Old and New Testaments as signs and symbols of God’s presence. And Christians claim not only that we want to walk in the light of the Lord, but that we also understand Jesus is that light incarnate. And this is incredibly important: Christians understand Jesus claims WE too are the light of the world. “You are the light of the world” he tells us in Matthew 5 (14).
What all this means is that we can understand all the love that comes during the Holidays as God’s light shining through human acts of compassion and kindness, in words of love and love in action ramped up a hundredfold this time of year because of the birth that leads to the life, death and continuing experience of Jesus the Christ. The Light of the Lord.
I like to think that we – humanity– are like living Christmas trees twinkling with our lights of goodness . . . shiny lights of God-ness, plugged in, turned up so much brighter at this time of year. So when I see Christmas trees and lights and such months in advance I am way good with it–even more so than the Ducks . . . errrrr . . . Bucks being rated as the #1 football team in June for contest in January.
Now the number one concern I hear about peace is that it is just not really possible– that it’s absurd to think humankind can ever have full societal and personal well-being, coupled with righteousness. My response to that is to point out that it is equally absurd that the story of a virgin conception of a peasant baby boy who grows up to be executed for a capital offense to become the Messiah and Savior and Prince of Peace and cause a single month of the year where humankind together turns to and works on love and aims our lives together toward peace. Peace on earth. The Advent Season, all of this hope and joy and love stuff that rises like an un-setting “Son” each winter proves peace is possible.
Peace is possible. But (to borrow from St Francis) we have to accept the gift and honor from God of being an instrument of God’s peace; and in so doing
where there is hatred, [we must] sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
Peace is possible but we have to mean it and act on it when we ask God to
grant that [we] may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
If we become instruments of peace, if we pray for peace and act for peace, not just for the Peace of Advent one month long, but the peace of Advent twelve months long then the promise of Isaiah, the promise of Christmas, the promise of peace is possible , not just one month, but all year long!
1. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 1, p 3
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